Miho Nasu-Kapila '92 knows intimately the sound of hornets buzzing in and out of their nests. As sound editor for National Geographic Television's (NGT) documentary, "Hornets from Hell," she worked frame by frame-29.97 frames per second.
Nasu-Kapila's minute attention to aural nuances has gone far from unnoticed. In September, she won an Emmy Award from the National Television Academy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Music and Sound (news and documentary category) as one of a team of six. "It was quite an honor, and I had a very good time going to the ceremony in New York," Nasu-Kapila says.
"Hornets from Hell" aired on MSNBC in October 2002. It follows the lifecycle of Japan's o-oh suzumebachi, the largest hornets in the world. Although they have a vicious reputation, the industrious hornets are a delicate part of the ecosystem. "The film shows very well the love for hornets of Dr. Masato Ono, a leading expert on hornets in Japan and an entomologist at Tamagawa University," Nasu-Kapila says.
The film crew spent two years gathering footage, often donning full-body protective suits as the hor- nets came and went through specially-prepared "hive boxes" in the forests of Nagano Prefecture. On the post production team, Nasu-Kapila worked in dark edit rooms in NGT's Washington, D.C. headquarters, focusing on "ambience sound"-what you would hear standing quietly in each location of each scene.
Using as much natural sound as she could, Nasu-Kapila matched the different types of buzzes produced by various species of hornets. She is especially proud of the scenes where a woman does calligraphy that is used to introduce different segments of the show. "The 'sound man' recorded the sound of the calligraphy brush in his second location shoot, so I timed the movement of each brush stroke with the edited video as if I were the calligrapher in the show, and then matched the sound," she explains. "When the woman writes one stroke of a specific character, it ought to sound different from the other part of the character. I tried again and again to get it right." She also added sound effects to enhance the mood of each scene.
Nasu-Kapila was not only sound editor but an assistant video editor, translator, and a voiceover person. She wrote lyrics for two of the songs on the soundtrack and performed one; her musical talent became evident to "Hornets" producers several years ago when she sang at a farewell party for a colleague. A short punk song is played in the film while Dr. Ono is driving his car, "just before the hornet queen starts to become active and powerful," says Nasu-Kapila. Translated from Japanese, her lyrics mean: "I am the queen of hornets, the hornet queen. Are you worthy of me? Are you strong or are you afraid of me?"
A duet performed by "Hornets" producer Jeff Morales and Nasu-Kapila accompanies the closing credits. "The autumn is ending and in winter wind, quietly hornets," they sing. "Nobody now understands how I feel, my feelings for you. I understand your gentleness and beauty. Your cruelty is one way for your survival. Hornets, sadness and my longing for you, hornets."
Nasu-Kapila, who grew up in Japan, acted as cultural consultant as well. "The producer and the editor were sometimes trying to incorporate the sound of a gong or some other types of music which to me were not Japanese," she says. "In those situations, I suggested alternatives, and they always listened to me. In addition, the producer was very interested in making sure that all Japanese language spoken made sense and was accurate. No Japanese person or lifestyle was stereotyped in the show. I was very happy that he listened to me and felt that this show would be appreciated by the Japanese audience as well as the American counterpart."
Nasu-Kapila became involved in documentary TV production through various internships while pursuing a master of arts degree in film and video at American University. In the mid-1990s she was a freelance production assistant and a stock footage researcher for clients including Washington Media Associates, the Kennedy Center, the American Film Institute, Maguire-Reeder, and York Associates Television.
In the spring of 1999 Nasu-Kapila joined the post production department of National Geographic Television. She drew inspiration from the NGT editors' creativity and diligence, qualities Nasu-Kapila herself had cultivated at Bryn Mawr as a political science major and dance minor. "At BMC, I learned to always try harder, challenge myself," she says. "This applies to editing. Good editors seem never satisfied. They always work very hard and challenge themselves."
A personal challenge for Nasu-Kapila is rheumatoid arthritis, which she first confronted during graduate school. For a year she relied on a cane, suffering severe pain and swelled joints, while continuing her education and internships. In time she recovered enough to walk without a cane, although she still lives with rheumatoid arthritis. "Some of my colleagues were amazed by the amount of energy I had for work," she says. "While at NGT, I worked long hours and really hard. However, I was happy because it was almost as if I was given a second chance in my life."
Winning an Emmy for NGT is "almost like a dream" for Nasu-Kapila, who first saw its magazine as an AFS high school exchange student in Ohio. Admiring its photographs of nature and people, she asked staffers how she could someday become an NGT photographer. "The assistant editor of photography wrote me back a nice long letter," Nasu-Kapila says. "He suggested that I get a liberal arts education to broaden my mind," encouraging her to develop a solid comprehension of the world and its cultures. A memorable interview with then-director of admissions Betty Vermey '58 convinced Nasu-Kapila that Bryn Mawr was the right place for her. "My interests changed throughout the years, and I became more interested in moving images," she says, "but National Geographic held a special place in my mind."
Lately Nasu-Kapila cares for her 5-month-old daughter, Sayo, at home in Chicago, where she recently relocated after many years in Washington. She continues to learn new technologies and aesthetics for video editing, which she plans to pursue. Her husband, Ranjit Kapila, studies business at the graduate level at Northwestern University and works as a software engineer. The couple hope to raise Sayo internationally. "Since my husband is originally from northern India and I am from Japan, we would like to give our daughter firsthand experience in both countries by living in both places," she says.
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